Joint venture

Advanced Gel Technology, a spin-out from Bradford University, is developing a gel that could be used to repair torn cartilages.

Advanced Gel Technology, a spin-out from Bradford University’s School of Engineering, Design and Technology, is developing a gel that could be used to repair torn cartilages.

A £135,000 project to develop the gel, which was funded by Advanced Gel Technology and partly by Yorkshire Forward, began three years ago. While the gel is not at clinical-trial stage yet, Advanced Gel Technology is confident that it will help hundreds of people when it finally becomes commercially available.

Unlike most other parts of the body, cartilage cannot be repaired easily, meaning that most joint sufferers need to undergo major invasive surgery.

Treating patients who need surgery with the alternative hydrogel therapy would mean a much less-invasive procedure that could postpone the need for joint replacement for at least five years.

The hydrogel treatment would be a very simple procedure and eventually could be carried out as day surgery, where a needle could be inserted through the skin into existing torn cartilage and then filled with the gel to stop the pain caused by bones rubbing against each other.

The hydrogel itself is made up almost entirely of water, yet can thicken to produce a substance 100-1,000 times stronger than any other gel of its kind. This is because it is composed of two very long elastic-like molecules that form strong covalent bonds with each other to form a 3D network, like a cage, that holds water.

Dr Pete Twigg, lead researcher of the cartilage repair project at Bradford University, said: ‘The potential for improved quality of life is huge. The number of people suffering from cartilage problems is increasing every year.

‘Total joint replacement is very successful, but may not be appropriate for younger, more active people. They are often encouraged to put off surgery until the pain is disabling, but a conservative replacement treatment could relieve pain and restore function at a much earlier stage.’